The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 2 of 6

By Bro. Lionel Vibert, P.A.G.D.C.

The Prestonian Lecture for 1925

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

It would be outside the scope of this lecture to enlarge on the changes then made, but I shall very briefly summarise the actual developments that took place in the ceremonies as disclosed by a comparison of the exposures from Prichard in 1730 to Claret in post‑Union times, only referring however to the most conspicuous of these modifications. And while the changes themselves are manifest enough, it is in respect of most of them not possible to suggest with any approach to accuracy the dates at which they were affected.

The brethren originally sat round a table with the Master at one end and both Wardens at the other. The South was occupied by a Senior Entered Apprentice. During the century the Junior Warden moved to the South and Deacons were introduced; after the Union the table disappears and the I.P.M. is recognised and given a share in the opening. The Candidate, who previously passed outside the brethren seated at the table, now passes round in front of them. The Opening in the First Degree is modified as the officers change their positions, but the essentials are there in 1730 except that there is no prayer.

Until towards the end of the century there seems to be no special opening for the other degrees. The First Degree Obligation is all along closely similar to the present one, the penalty being identical; but there is no reference to the more effective penalty originally. The ceremony is, however, far shorter because much that we now introduce by way of charges or addresses was imparted by way of question and answer in lectures. The Antients had a prayer for the Candidate, but it is quite different from what we are today familiar with.

The method of advancing as usually described is much simpler, and this applies to all three degrees; but a passage in the preface to the first edition of Ahiman Rezon suggests that the Moderns had something more resembling what we are today familiar with. The exposures, however, have no indication of this.

Prichard mentions two Names, and refers to both as being communicated in the First Degree, the second alone being used in the F.C. The Moderns reversed them while the Antients retained this order, and at the Union their practice was maintained, with one word only for each degree.

The Candidate was originally restored to light in the midst of a circle of swords. This, which is Irish working today, is still preserved in some Provinces, but was eliminated from the ritual as recommended after the Union. The working tools of the First Degree are the same but only one, the 24 inch gauge, is moralised in the exposures. There is no reference to Working Tools in the other degrees, but they almost certainly were known and were in all probability moralised in extempore addresses.

In the Second Degree there appears originally to have been no distinct obligation and when it does come in it includes some provisions that now form part of that in the Third. But there was an addition to the ceremony in that the newly made F.C. re‑entered the Lodge to receive his wages, which he did from the Senior Warden between the Pillars after having passed a test. The earlier rituals also include a set of verses on the letter G. and other indications that part of the working may have originally been in rhyme. The earliest account of the penalty gives it as we have it.

The changes that took place in the Third Degree both before and at the Union are much more considerable. It does not appear that prior to the Union the Lodge was darkened; indeed there is direct evidence to the contrary in the various plates which show the ceremony in progress with the candles all lit.

The original narrative as we have it described the F.C. discovering the Master decently buried in a handsome grave. It is not till Hiram and, Jachin and Boaz that he is found in a mangled condition, etc. Then the blows given by the first two villains were originally reminiscent of the penalties of the first two degrees, while the whole narrative was different in many particulars. The obligation, as given in Hiram, has the chastity point, but not the Five Points of Fellowship. These are found, however, in another connection in the ceremony from the very first.

A phrase which I may designate by the letters MACH is the first given; then we get the other form with the remark that Mach is the more general. From this time onwards according as the exposure is Antient or Modern it gives one phrase or the other as the more usual, but always mentions both.

In this respect our system today is a manifest compromise. We tell the candidate that one is the Antient and the other the Modern working. It is clear that in this particular point neither Grand Lodge would give way and the only solution of the difficulty was to carry forward into the combined system the workings of both Grand Lodge. But in other respects what appears to have happened was that the Grand Lodge of the Moderns gave in on all points where their ceremonies differed from those of the Antients and the sister Grand Lodges (Wonnacott, A.Q.C., xxiii, 261).

The only distinction in the 18th century as regards the apron was apparently that the edging for Grand Officers was blue. The apron itself was plain, but from about 1760 the custom came in of decorating it with any designs the owner fancied. The Master Mason may have worn it with the flap down, as we do today; the E.A. and F.C. keeping the flap up, buttoned to the waistcoat, the E.A. further turning up one corner. The tassels are not earlier than 1814; the rosettes with us are later still, but may have been adopted in Germany in the 18th century; they seem to represent original buttonholes for the turned‑up corners (Hills, in Som. Master Trans. 1916, Masonic Clothing).

If then we compare the system as disclosed in 1730 with the system as recommended by the Lodge of Reconciliation in 1816, we find that the changes that have been introduced are that the form of the Lodge is altered and the way in which it is officered; that the opening formerly only used for the First Degree is now required, with appropriate modifications, in all; that the clothing has become more elaborate and eventually the aprons of the degrees and of the Past Masters are discriminated; and that there has been a certain amount of transference of ritual matter from lectures to the actual degree ceremony. The First Degree is not otherwise materially changed; the Second is deprived of the incident of the receipt of wages by the new Fellow‑Craft, but now has its own obligation; and in the Third the narrative has been considerably re‑written and the signs would also seem to have been added to, as the only ones given in pre‑Union editions of Jachin & Boaz are the grip, penal sign and Grand and Royal sign.

The pass‑words are now introduced between the degrees; they were hitherto part of them. But these are in every case changes of detail only. Substantially the system of 1730 is the system today; that is to say, we still have the trigradal arrangement of that period, the Third Degree of which was concerned with the Hiramic Legend.

We must now take our enquiry back a further stage and endeavour to ascertain how that threefold system itself came into existence and what was the source of the materials of which it was constructed.


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